The first time I experienced true hunger, I just went with it and hoped the answer to having no food would fall in my lap. Something would change. I was not about to go beg for help. I was raised knowing what kind of people got free money from the government. Lazy,good for nothing,waste of space kind of people. I was harder on myself also because I heard all the voices back from when I had a baby when I was just a girl myself…the ones that said, ‘You’ll never make it. You’re going to ruin your own life and that baby’s.’.
Realistically, I should have been proud of the fact that I raised that baby until he was 5 without help from anyone, family or the government. A 35 year old single mother had just as much chance of being the one who found herself suddenly without a job and no new prospects, struggling to avoid eviction and keep the lights on and food in bellies. I just didn’t see it that way then. I saw myself as the conservative naysayer’s prophecy come true. I honestly believed asking for help made me less of a “strong woman”.
I fed my kid what there was to eat and if there was leftovers, I’d eat that. I was naturally petite, weighing only about 110 pounds at my heaviest winter weight. Before long, I started to lose my curves and people noticed. At first, it was, “Wow, you look great!” , until I didn’t look great anymore and I just looked sick. I weighed 85 pounds before someone I barely knew started leaving food on my doorstep and then made me call DSS to apply for food stamps & cash assistance.I was ashamed and embarrassed, which was only made worse by the way people treat you when you’re getting assistance but the world didn’t end and we ate.
That was the first time.
The second time I was really hungry, I had taken myself, my son, and newborn twins out of a horrible situation and moved into an apartment. It didn’t take long to feel like I had just gone from a dangerous place to another dangerous place. I was working full time, paying more than half my paycheck to daycare, not receiving any child support or assistance from anywhere. As soon as I caught myself rationing food and making sure the kid ate before I did, I recognized that it was time to apply for help. I did and I was denied. I made $110 too much, according to the income eligibility guidelines. $110 too much yet not enough to actually make it. I applied for a daycare subsidy, trying to free up that money to pay the bills & eat but there was a 6 month waiting list. That’s a long time to wait when you’re hungry. I went to food pantries and bought cheap, gross food. The apartment I lived in had no place for me to grow food. Then, the daycare center I worked at as a teacher went bankrupt and closed. That saved my ass. No longer making anything, I was approved for food stamps and we could eat again. I don’t know what would have happened if the place I worked for hadn’t closed and I had stayed employed. I had already started not eating at home and looking forward to the free meals served at the daycare.Afterward, living on unemployment & some food stamps, I found myself in the odd predicament of being afraid to find another job and getting stuck in the same situation.
That was the second time.
There wasn’t really a third time. Even though we receive food stamps right now, I didn’t let it get to that point where I was truly hungry. I think you’ve probably figured out that when I’m using the word hungry here,I’m not talking about the little pang you feel between meals. I’m talking about a consistently empty and unfulfilled feeling in your stomach. The kind that makes you tired and slow, physically,mentally,spiritually. I never let it get that far again. There are millions of people in the US who are eligible for food stamps and don’t even apply. There are a lot more who have applied and were denied because they made “too much” . Making too much to receive help is sometimes just as bad as being in that place where you won’t go apply for whatever reason. The system has a lot of illogical rules and doesn’t serve everyone who needs fed. In most states, the amount someone is suppose to receive as court ordered child support is counted as income….even if child support is rarely received. Single parents living on one income, not making ends meet at all yet can’t qualify for help because on paper, their income is some figure based on what some slacker is supposed to pay but doesn’t.
People have told me their reasons for not applying. The shame & fear of being judged is an overwhelmingly huge factor. Sometimes the way you’re treated at the social services office by caseworkers varies greatly. Some are compassionate & helpful. Others are cruel & judgmental.The people who have had experiences in the past with government employed social workers who can’t dish out anything but contempt for the people they’re required to help won’t ever go back to apply again.
Humiliation is powerful enough to keep people from getting help to eat. That’s a damned shame. Food is a right, not a privilege. I wish I had understood that 20 years ago. I wish I had understood that it didn’t matter why I had no money to feed myself and my child, I still deserved to eat just as much as any other human being with money in their bank account.
I don’t care how unpopular that opinion is. I don’t express the opinions I have to please those people. I have them to show I care about people who need someone to give a shit about them and because I’ve been there myself. The people who gripe about there being too many people on food stamps “living high on the hog” as it is and all that bullshit about welfare fraud need to get a dose of reality. More than half the people on food stamps work, they’re just underemployed and half the people also receive them for less than 1 year. Being anti-food stamps because of rampant welfare fraud or other misconceptions is like saying that a lot of women lie about being raped. It happens so rarely that it makes the issue irrelevant.Of course it’s wrong but the percentages do not warrant an entire argument and raging stigma to be born from it.
I’m not here to talk about how bad welfare fraud is. I’m just here to speak for the larger numbers of people who need help. Living on food stamps is no picnic but it beats the hell out of not having them at all. The welfare stigmas and stereotypes need to die. I don’t know how to make this happen except to keep speaking up for the majority of people who do not fit the stereotype and myth. I encourage anyone who really needs help to go get it and refuse to give a shit about the people who will judge you.No one should ever get to that point where they weigh 85 pounds and are still too embarrassed to ask for help. If you’re treated unkindly, point out that decent humans don’t act like that.
Compassion is a sign of great intellect. If they’re not showing compassion, it proves their stupidity. If you happen to be one of the unsympathetic beings reading this, don’t get all bent out of shape because I just stated that you’re stupid. Just try to open your mind a bit and let your perceptions change a little. Remember this: Shit happens and it happens to the best of us. Someday you could be the one who needs help. Do you really want to be treated like a parasite because of it?